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The only way to get to Washington Island at the tip of Door County Wisconsin is by ferry. (Or private plane—ours was not available … wink emoji.) Fiber friend Theresa and I started our visit on a perfect evening, overlooking Green Bay. Not a football in sight.

What’s in a name?

The Ojibwa named the island “Wassekiganeso” that translates to “his breast is shining” because sunlight reflects and glints off its limestone cliffs. When a larger, non-Native American population arrived in the 1830s, they called it Washington Island. Together with the Door Peninsula, Washington Island forms a treacherous strait connecting Green Bay to the rest of Lake Michigan. Early French explorers named it after the many shipwrecks, Porte des Morts, translated colloquially as “Death’s Door,” which pops up frequently in road names, parks, and souvenirs. 

Almost immediately after driving onto the island, we stopped at Fair Isle Books and Gifts. There was an excellent selection of yarns, books, and even entertainment for the littles.

Plus sweatshirts

The famous Door County cherries were just beginning to ripen on the island, so no picking for us, but the island microclimate that supports cherries—lake waters delay the coming of spring and extend mild temperatures in the fall—is also perfect for orchards and lavender.

The Farm Museum is a sweet spot to visit. 

I traded side eyes with a Jacob sheep, watched some chickens, saw more lavender, and laughed at kid goats butting heads. 

“Happiness is in your hands and it keeps you young.”

That’s a quote from Walter Schutz who with his wife Sophie Sievers Schutz established Sievers School of Fiber Arts where the workshops are top-notch. The school evolved from one class room in 1979 to two light-filled studios and a dormitory to house workshop participants. 

Color gamp studies from the weaving workshop I attended

Sievers Store, the island’s yarn shop, is in a former one-room schoolhouse. Dating to 1890, it still has some original light fixtures. This is not your average resort-town shop. It has a stunning selection of yarns, both commercial and handspun, as well as knitting, spinning and weaving books and accessories. The owner and his son have a niche business making model train tables—if that’s your jam!

There is an impressive lending library of craft and local history books. Fill out an index card with your info and it’s yours for a while. I spotted hard-cover copies of both MDK books!

A Feast and a Ramble

The permanent resident population of Washington Island is around 700, and the island school district is the smallest in the State of Wisconsin. While we were in town, the International Food Festival—a scholarship fund raiser for high school graduates—took place.

We bought our tickets, filled our plates, then sat down to eat and chat. One man at our table, a softly-spoken 63-year old sporting a Harley shirt and biker beard secured with a rubber band, told me his family on the island goes back 136 years, and that he has spent every summer of his life on the island. This was not an uncommon story—ties to the island are strong. I heard “When I lived off-island,” more than once. 

Stavekirk, a replica of Norwegian wooden church

Washington Island has one of the oldest Icelandic communities in the United States, among the largest outside Iceland. I didn’t get to see the Icelandic horses, but I did find these:

At Little Lake Nature Preserve, once the site of a Native American settlement, I visited the study cabin of Thorstein Veblen, the economist who coined the term “conspicuous consumption.”

it depends on what your definition of “leisure class” is

The water on the beaches is remarkably clear: 

And the rocks are clearly inspiring to aspiring architects:


Because of a Prohibition-era loophole, Nelsen’s Hall, the oldest continually operating tavern in Wisconsin, was granted a license to dispense bitters as a “stomach tonic for medicinal purposes.” Since Angostura Bitters is 90 proof, it’s safe to say that it served as more than just a cure for upset tummies. Taking shots of Angostura Bitters is now a tradition, and the island’s population consumes more bitters than anyone else in the world. I did not join the club.

The range of locally-made ciders, both alcoholic and non, was surprising. Apple-lavender, apple-cherry, pear, and even an apple with guava and hops. Cider is important here. In the fall there is a public pressing party at the Farm Museum that sounds like it would be worth a return visit. The Washington Island Farmer’s Market features amazing treats and produce.

Beautiful and serene, the island has spotty cell service and scarce Wi-Fi, which helped it feel like a place out of time to this city dweller. I know I’ll be back!

About The Author

Mary Lou Egan has been teaching knitting and designing for a long time. Teaching all levels has given her insight in ways to address the challenges knitters face—and the chance to practice tips and tricks on unsuspecting knitters.


  • I love Sievers and my time on the island. I’m so glad you found it!

    • Jean did you take a class there? What a great spot!

  • Thanks for taking us to this interesting destination.

  • This sounds just lovely, and only a day’s drive away. Adding it to my bucket list!

    • A day’s drive and a ferry ride and you’re in a new world. Love Washington Island.

    • You won’t regret it!

  • Sign me up for a visit ,this sounds wonderful!

  • I’m putting this on my travel itinerary

  • It’s a beautiful place.

  • A few summers ago I’d been signed up for a Janine Bejus class at Sievers, but unfortunately it was the first summer of COVID and so the class was cancelled. The school seems to have a list of interesting knitting classes, and it certainly would be fun to stay for a few days. It’s lovely to see pictures of the place—I guess I better try signing up for something again.

    • Apparently Janine isn’t traveling as she used to for teaching. COVID really put a crimp in all our plans! It’s well worth visiting and looking for another class.

      • Washington Island is one of my favorite places, and Sievers is truly special. Glad you took the time to write about your time there, Mary Lou!

        • It wouldn’t have been as much fun without your company!

  • Washington Island, and all of Door County is magically special. This Wisconsin born gal misses it, now that Texas is home.

  • What a pleasant surprise to see this article about Washington Island. The Island, and Sievers, are very special places!

    • They are special! I want to go back!

      • Washington Island is just a beautiful, serene place to visit! Thank you for the lovely story of your visit there❤️

  • What a nice article. I grew up in mid Wisconsin but my family never travelled. I think my father just couldn’t imagine a trip with six kids as a vacation so we never went anywhere but I often heard of the beauty of Door County. I rarely get back to my old stomping grounds but this certainly makes me want to put it on the bucket list if I do venture back there at some point.

    • This South Dakota gal has a mom who grew up in Fond du Lac, so dad would drive us 6 kids there every summer. Heard about Door County but didn’t get there until I was an adult. I’ve been to Washington Island twice and missed Stievers both times – I will not be so foolish the next time. The lavendar fields are lovely. Pro tip-take your bike or rent one on the Island.

  • So few peaceful yet interesting places left in the world. Thanks for this one!

    • Can’t wait! Next trip back will include Washington Island!

  • Thank you for this!! I’m putting it on my travel wish list.

  • Wow…thank you for such an excellent travelogue on a cool and somewhat obscure place! When I travel I always prefer to go off the proverbial beaten path and explore places that are unknown and special. And adding the knitting bits to this trip is the icing on the cake.

  • Washington Island is a magical place, I spent the day and had lunch at Jackson Harbor Soup and Sandwich up in the northeast corner of the island with a view out to Rock Island. I also need to put in a good word for The Clearing in nearby Ellison Bay, on mainland Door County. It’s a true folk school on 100+ acres of forest on a bluff overlooking Green Bay. Week-long retreats teaching everything from blacksmithing to weaving to knitting to painting to woodcarving to quilting to photography …….
    I have no affiliation with them at all, except a deep love of the week I spent there, with like minded folks, in the woods, in a cabin. Summer camp for adults.

    • Several of my classmates told me about The Clearing – it sounds lovely!

  • I am happy to hear that you skipped the fish boil, a tradition, but not a good one. Kerosene tainted boiled fish…the cherry pie is always good.

    • No fish boil for this girl! Cherry pie? Yes please!

  • Thank you Mary Lou for sharing your experience at Sievers and on Washington Island and especially for being a student in Deb Jones’ Rigid Heddle Weaving class! We look forward to seeing you again!

  • Washington Island is one of my favorite places. We visited more than a decade ago by car -going over on the ferry – when visiting Door County. Then again in 2018 by boat. We laughed because we were there on a festival weekend and told the locals that we were seated with for the meal ‘Thank you for throwing us a party with a parade’. The Island is very bikeable. The Stave church is one of my favorite stops as well as Sievers. I hope to visit again either by boat or by auto.

  • Learned how to spin and dye fiber and knit socks from classes at Sievers – great place. One time though I did have to back my car off the ferry on the trip back to Door County as it was too rough for the ferry to turn around.

  • I have aspirations to go during the lavender festival. Now that my best friend is also retired, we may just do that! (My husband has no interest in lavender.)

    • So so pretty! You’ll have a blast.

  • It is called Death’s Door because of a battle that cost many lives. Not shipwrecks.

    • Interesting, I’ll have to read further!

  • I visited Washington Island this summer and will definitely be going back, a magical place

  • Mary Lou, thank you so much for showing us Washington Island and telling us the history. Would definitely love to visit. Thank you

  • Recently returned from Iceland and saw those little stone cairns everywhere…I’d forgotten about them until I saw your photos. Thank you.

  • Grew up about an hour and a half from Door County. Great place to explore! Fond memories of being there with family when I was a kid. Now I have a new reason to visit again… thanks for all the fiber info!

  • Mary Lou. This is a perfect picture of our magical week on the Island. Your photos are amazing!

  • It was a joy to re-visit Door Cty. and Washington Island via your article. I visited the island several times almost 25 years ago when my daughter lived in Sturgeon Bay. It is not so much a feeling of a step back in time as a step away. Home made and homegrown and natural are all appropriate descriptors. We camped, sat by the cold lake water and, of course visited Sievers. The first memory I have is the hand painted sign in front of a small business we passed by: “ Fudge——Lawn Mower Repair”.

    • I love those kinds of signs!!

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